May 16, 2006Foreign AffairsSecurity

The new Hindu-Kush

India cannot fight its war in Afghanistan with shovels alone.

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

There are several concurrent wars going on in Afghanistan. In one of them Pakistan is fighting India — not directly of course, but using its longstanding strategy of using tribesmen’ and militants’ to carry out terrorist attacks on civilian targets. For its part, the Indian government believes that the shovels it has sponsored will defeat Pakistan-sponsored guns and gunmen. When rudely challenged by the Taliban’s brazen attacks on its unarmed citizens, the official Indian reaction is to take the high road: It is the Shovels, like Truth, that will prevail.

Such a position is conveniently unassailable, for doing so invites charges of impatience or worse, of pessimism. It also allows the Indian government to do nothing. So after President Hamid Karzai’s government informed Indian authorities that it was at Pakistan’s behest that the Taliban butchered an Indian engineer, the highest-levels of the UPA government met and decided to let the Karzai government to tackle the issue”. Never mind that the issue is not just one of yet another murder of an Indian civilian. It is also one where two-paisa Taliban thugs have been convinced that they can get away with murder and more, reinforcing what the Afghans believed for centuries. So used were they to the death of Indian slaves that they named one of their main mountain ranges to commemorate the phenomenon.

It was an anonymous Taliban leader who revealed that P Suryanarayana was killed on the ISIs orders. He even gave the name of the actual killer and the supervising Taliban commander. Usually the credibility of reports based on anonymous sources is at best dubious. However while the direct accusations bring the ISIs skulduggery into sharp public focus, there was never any real doubt about Pakistan using Taliban militants to hold up its end in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been taking far bigger orders than that of Suryanarayana’s murder. In calling India’s attention to Pakistan’s involvement in this outrage, Karzai implicitly invited greater Indian military involvement in Afghanistan. The manner in which India dismissed his invitation made it appear as if New Delhi was disinclined to embroil itself in what it saw as a purely bilateral squabble between Kabul and Islamabad. India didn’t even raise a finger in Pakistan’s direction (for that would not help build confidence, will it?).

India cannot win its war in Afghanistan with shovels alone. It needs to bolster its security presence. And this is the best time in years for India to do so — the United States on its way out, NATO and the Europeans don’t really want to stay in and Pakistani objections are fast declining in value. Afghan reconstruction has stalled due to ever-increasing Taliban violence. Neither Karzai nor the Northern Alliance will complain too loudly if Indian special forces are deployed to protect Indian interests. Some may argue against the use of force in Afghanistan, contending that this is not India’s war. If that is so, it is hard to explain India’s massive investment in the reconstruction.

Neither the Taliban nor its sponsors can be defeated by Gandhian techniques. Rebuffing Karzai’s overture was hardly a clever thing for the Indian government to do. The chances are that India will yet be compelled to react to further barbarism. At a certain point even the Indian government will have to acknowledge that not all inactivity can be passed off as masterly. Right now, India’s commitment in Afghanistan is half-hearted. Like at so many other times and fronts, Pakistan has thrust a war on India. India can choose to fight, or expend lives to build roads for the Taliban to drive their 4X4s on.

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